June 2 2012
Charter Conversion Brings New Hope to Muskegon Heights Students
Vicki E. Alger
A new Michigan law makes it easier to convert poorly performing district schools to charter schools.
This law has paved the way for change at Muskegon Heights Public Schools, where finances and student performance are in shambles. The district is $12 million in debt, and EAG News reports, “Recent statistics from a state test show only 6.8 percent of 11th graders are proficient in reading and writing while a paltry 2.2 percent of the same students are proficient in math.”
Converting failing district public schools to charters is an increasingly popular reform. Two years ago California’s Parent Revolution became the driving force behind the country’s first Parent Trigger law. This legislation empowers parents with children in chronically low-performing schools to “organize and transform their school based on what's good for children, not adults.” A majority of parents (51 percent) must sign a petition, and districts must implements one of four reform models, including charter schools. Today some 20 states are considering similar laws.
More recently New Orleans enacted the country’s first district-wide charter conversion to achieve higher student performance and better management. But no everyone is happy about such reforms.
The president of the Michigan Education Association says the plan to turn Muskegon Heights’ public schools into a charter school system is an “unimaginable attack on democracy and public education.” …“In one swift secretive move, [Muskegon Heights Public Schools Emergency Manager Donald Weatherspoon’s] robbed the community of their neighborhood schools, ended the career of more than 85 staff members, and sold the education of Muskegon Heights students to the lowest bidder,” Cook said. Weatherspoon last week released details of his plan to have the school district authorize a private management company to run the district as a K-12 charter school system. All staff of Muskegon Heights Public Schools have been laid off, though they can apply to work for the charter system. The school district will continue, but only to serve as authorizer of the charter system and to pay off the $12 million deficit. Weatherspoon said recreating the district as a separate entity is the only way to free students from the weight of the debt.
Local Muskegon Heights Education Association union president Joy Robinson insisted, “The Heights teachers have been providing a quality education to students all along,” but students and their families deserve better. So do local, state, and federal taxpayers.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, the Muskegon Heights School District receives nearly $13,000 in per-pupil revenue. Local taxpayers contribute about $2,500; state taxpayers, nearly $7,500; and federal taxpayers, another $2,700.
What’s truly unimaginable and undemocratic is that Cook, who reportedly earns more than $200,000, is essentially telling Muskegon Heights families earning a median income of around $20,000 that a proficiency rate of (far) less than 10percent is good enough for their children.